By the time we'd gotten to the first commercial break, the 2023 Golden Globes had already proven why, warts and all, it was worth it to broadcast the ceremony once more. The Globes returned to NBC on Tuesday night after a year off of television, due to a series of scandals that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which presents the Globes, would rather everybody forget about. Host Jerrod Carmichael wasn't going let that happen, stating frankly in his opening remarks that getting this high-profile gig and its accompanying fat paycheck didn't mean he was going to sweep the HFPA's shameful record of not including any Black members under the rug. Carmichael's monologue was unsparing but not gratuitous, and he ended it with what seemed like a sincere shift in perspective. Looking out into the room full of "incredible artists," Carmichael concluded that despite the HFPA's past, "this is an evening that we get to celebrate, and I think this industry deserves evenings like these."
The first two awards of the evening proved Carmichael's words prophetic. Best Supporting Actor Ke Huy Quan, winning for Everything Everywhere All at Once, got to feel the embrace of an industry he'd long ago thought had passed him by. Quan thanked Steven Spielberg, who was in the audience, for giving him his first big break as a child actor in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, before thanking his EEAAO directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert for giving him "an opportunity to try again." This was immediately followed by presenter Jennifer Hudson's moment of delighted surprise at the name of the Best Supporting Actress winner, as Angela Bassett became the first performer from a Marvel movie to win a major acting award. Bassett spoke eloquently about the late Chadwick Boseman, who originated the role of Prince T’Challa a.k.a. Black Panther in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. "Weeping may come in the evening," she said, "but joy will come in the morning."
In those first 20 minutes, the Golden Globe telecast argued fairly convincingly for the awards's own continued existence. The Hollywood Foreign Press never really had much of a claim to authority on artistic excellence; even less after these recent scandals. The place of prominence the Globes had attained in Hollywood's awards season is almost accidental — the ceremony was the one that garnered the big television audience just a few weeks before the Oscars. But awards, like any currency, have only the meaning we give to them. In this case, the currency that the Golden Globes have is that they create an opportunity for people like Ke Huy Quan, Angela Bassett, Michelle Yeoh, Jeremy Allen White, Quinta Brunson, Jennifer Coolidge, and Steven Spielberg to stand up in a ballroom full of their contemporaries and feel a sense of recognition and validation. The audience at home gets to connect with that validation to whatever degree they choose to, and maybe be inspired to watch a movie or TV show or two in the process. On the red carpet, nominated composer Carter Burwell (The Banshees of Inisherin) made perhaps the simplest case for enjoying the Golden Globes: "I'm not here as a vote of confidence in the HFPA, but I don't think anybody ever was."
The rest of the evening had its bumps in the road. The eternal award-show conundrum of how to deal with speeches that push the telecast too long was once again answered imperfectly, this time with an in-house piano player, Chloe Flower, who began playing nearly every winner offstage before their speeches were finished. It was not a popular tactic, neither in the room nor with viewers at home. For one thing, putting a spotlight on Flowers only made things tenser when actors like Colin Farrell, Michelle Yeoh, and Austin Butler demonstrably bristled at the rude interruption. The show's producers were the ones making the music-cue choices; it felt like they were feeding Ms. Flower to the wolves by making her so visible. At one point, the piano played off the directors of Foreign Language Film winner Argentina, 1985 in the middle of stating the importance of defending democracy. They played DEMOCRACY off the stage! Carmichael eventually had to take a moment and defend Flowers against haters on Twitter. Bad stuff.
In the weeks leading up to the show, there had been some ballyhoo about whether celebrities would be boycotting the Globes due to the scandals. That ended up being mostly overblown, as the attendees included Spielberg, Farrell, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Michelle Williams, Salma Hayek, Jenna Ortega, Jean Smart, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Rihanna. There were a few more no-shows among the winners than usual, though, and the producers teleprompted regrets on their behalf did raise several eyebrows. Amanda Seyfried wasn't there to collect her trophy for The Dropout because she was "deep in the process of creating a new musical." Cate Blanchett and Zendaya were filming elsewhere. This all came to a rather ludicrous crescendo when presenter Regina Hall accepted an absent Kevin Costner's award for Yellowstone and then began an unstoppable giggle fit over what at first seemed like overly flowery prompter language, only for it to turn out that Costner had to "shelter in place in Santa Barbara" due to the unprecedented torrential rains in California.
Bizarre as it was, Hall's off-the-rails acceptance by proxy was one of several highlights of the night. Jennifer Coolidge got to shine twice, once as a presenter, where she got to air out her anxieties over mispronouncing winners's names (the way she says "Bill Niyeeeee" will live on forever now), and again when she won for Best Supporting Actress for The White Lotus. That speech, while irrepressibly funny (milking those American Pie sequels dry), caught Coolidge in a rare tearful moment, thanking Ryan Murphy and an even more tearful Mike White for the opportunities that kept her going.
Speaking of Ryan Murphy, he received the Carol Burnett Award for lifetime achievement on television, which surely raised some eyebrows among the many detractors of his TV output. But Murphy turned out to be a rather perfect Golden Globes honoree: kind of trashy; in love with celebrity; not universally respected, but undeniably entertaining to many. His speech was really quite wonderful, taking long moments to recognize actors like Billy Porter, Matt Bomer, Niecy Nash, and Jeremy Pope, whose careers he'd helped boost on his shows. He affordedPose's Michaela Jae Rodriguez the chance to get the in-person standing ovation she missed out on at last year’s untelevised Globes. By the end of it, he'd shouted out nearly two dozen collaborators, both in the room and beyond, in a speech that managed to be both incredibly generous while also reminding everyone within earshot of how wide his terrain has stretched over the years.
Carmichael himself proved to be a rather fearless host. Even after that bracing monologue, he joked about the absent Tom Cruise relinquishing his three career Golden Globes and then made a Scientology/Shelly Miscavige joke, which got a massive gasp in the room. Later, Carmichael quipped about Will Smith receiving the "Rock Hudson Award for Best Performance of Masculinity." In what may have been his boldest moment of the night, he called the Ana de Armas-led film Blonde "incredible." (Colin Farrell also expressed his love for Blonde during his acceptance speech, making this unquestionably the single best night for the critically lambasted film since it debuted.)
It was a night where Steven Spielberg and Mike White made touching and funny speeches after winning for The Fabelmans and The White Lotus, respectively. Quinta Brunson shouted out Bob Odenkirk for Mr. Show. Henry Winkler shook the hand of every single winner as they made their way past his table to the stage. Natasha Lyonne got some laughs out of some fairly clever "uh oh, we've gone over time" material. Sean Penn introduced a video message from Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky. In short, it was the Golden Globes: an all-star mishmash of Hollywood celebrity that featured good work being recognized, incisive speeches, and a handful of moments that you'll probably go back and watch again on YouTube.
Stay dry, Kevin Costner, wherever you are. The Golden Globes are back, baby.
Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.